Conference Inspires Women to Continue Computer Science Pursuits


Attendees of the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference are joined in the Jonsson School courtyard by (left) Dean Mark Spong and Dr. Linda Morales; and (right) Dr. Gopal Gupta and Dr. Janell Straach.

Nine UT Dallas students received an extra dose of encouragement to pursue careers and research in computing when they attended the recent Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference.

The largest technical conference for women in computing fosters collaborative proposals, networking and mentoring for women, as well as increased visibility for the contributions of women in the field. The program, presented by the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology and the Association for Computing Machinery, drew 4,800 people this year.

The six undergraduate and three graduate students, all from the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, traveled to Minneapolis last month and heard presentations from leaders in industry, academia, government and research about the role of women in technology fields.

“It was really inspiring to see and meet women who are successful in an industry dominated by men,” said senior Mito Are. “It makes me want to work even harder and not be afraid to strive for excellence, even with very little support.”

Dr. Linda Morales and Dr. Janell Straach, both senior lecturers in computer science at UT Dallas, organized the trip. Last year, they began exploring ways to encourage more women at the University to enter and stay in computer science and software engineering.

Linda Morales

Dr. Linda Morales, a senior lecturer in computer science at UT Dallas, said the Grace Hopper convention helps women develop the confidence to excel in computing careers.

“Many women need encouragement and confidence-building to pursue industry and academic careers in computing,” Morales said. “We try to help them through this process. The Grace Hopper conference does a great job of showing students the many aspects of computing and how they can participate and grow.”

Straach said several of the UT Dallas participants received scholarships to attend the conference. Others were supported by the Department of Computer Science and the school. All were chosen to take part because of their involvement in helping other women interested in computer science, by teaching summer camps or tutoring.

Straach said she hopes the attendees gained encouragement and a sense of belonging in the field.

“I saw some young ladies grow in confidence about their chosen profession,” she said. “I saw others inspired by the speakers.  For me personally, it inspired me to see the growth in our students.”

The theme, “Think Big,” resonated with the group.

They heard from keynote speakers including Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook; Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College; and Megan Smith, vice president at Google.

Janell Straach

Dr. Janell Straach, a senior lecturer in computer science, said it was inspiring to see the growth of her students at the convention.

“I think this conference actually focused on changing the way that society views women, rather than just creating a conference to support women,” senior Sanya Peshwani said. “It's tackling the cause rather than just treating the symptoms. … It felt amazing to have women in the corporate world who are raising issues that I face every day as a student in a male-dominated area of study.

“I don't think that I've ever felt more empowered as a woman.”

The students also attended a career fair while at the conference. Representatives from leading high-tech companies, research laboratories, government agencies and universities were present.

“The career fair was an amazing experience,” said senior Reva Pabba. “Talking to recruiters and gaining that experience helped me become more confident with myself and my abilities. Before I was a bit hesitant with my resume and myself, but going out there and meeting and talking with people made me feel stronger.”

Aside from Are, Peshwani and Pabba, undergraduates who attended were Grace Kaldawi, Kara Schrader and Rachel Williams. The graduate students were Jennifer D’Souza, Juliette Ugirumurera and Junia Valente. 

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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